The 2013 NBA Finals continue on their trajectory to be the best bad series ever played. Once again, the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs tantalized us with the promise of an exciting finish, only to see one team completely take over the game in the latter stages of the third quarter. This time it was San Antonio, who won Game 5 on their home floor in a not-as-close-as-it-sounds 114-104 win.
San Antonio had an early 17-point lead all but wiped out, as Miami got to within a point in the third quarter. The Spurs promptly ripped off a tear that built the lead as high as twenty and the Heat never made it any more than modestly interesting the rest of the way.
SAN ANTONIO’S GUARDS OWN THE NIGHT
Let’s begin by giving all credit to the Spurs’ backcourt. Manu Ginobli is getting the praise this morning, and after a 24 points/10 assists night, he absolutely deserves all of it. This isn’t a case of someone getting outsized credit simply because they’re the “new” contributor (new in the sense that Ginobli was AWOL for the first four games). Ginobli was genuinely the best player on the floor last night.
Tony Parker scored 26 points to lead all scorers, and his hamstring looked fine. Whether it’s a case of the hammy being genuinely healed, or if it had more to do with getting two days off prior to Game 5, we’ll soon find out—because it’s just one day off between games the rest of the way.
Then we come to Danny Green, whose three-point shooting continues to astonish. He banged home 6-of-10 from behind the arc, including a big one when the lead was down to one. And when Miami made the game modestly interesting with about a minute left (the lead was still 10, but stranger things have happened in the NBA), Green drilled a trey from the corner and there was your dagger.
San Antonio’s backcourt led an offense that hit new degrees in efficiency, shooting 60 percent from the floor, a little over 40 percent from behind the arc, and covered for subpar night rebounding. Tim Duncan had a good game, with 17 points/12 rebounds, but the role players who need to grab the boards—Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw—continue to be absent in this series.
It’s something for head coach Gregg Popovich to harp on over the next 48 hours, because even though the Spurs still won the battle of the glass 36-34, that’s not a big enough edge on Miami. Unless, that is, you shoot 60 percent from the floor and I don’t know that the Spurs want to bank on that.
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE HEAT?
Now let’s come to Miami. It’s not that there are no nice things to say. Ray Allen shot 4-for-4 from behind the arc, including two different four-point plays. Shane Battier knocked down a pair, a welcome contribution from the veteran. If Battier can get on the floor more it tends to have a positive ripple effect everywhere, and if he hits some shots, head coach Erik Spoelstra can give him more minutes. It’s something to keep an eye as the series goes back to Miami.
Furthermore, Dwayne Wade had his second straight game looking like the D-Wade of old. With his 25 points/10 assists and in general seeming to be everywhere there was a loose ball, Wade looks like the man who led Marquette to a Final Four and the pre-LeBron Miami Heat to a championship.
But everything else was a disaster and it starts with LeBron James. I don’t consider myself a LeBron critic. Unless someone compares him to Michael Jordan—a number that’s thankfully gotten pretty small—I think the expectations James plays under are usually ridiculous. But we just can’t deny that other than Game 4, he’s been subpar in this series and last night was his second game (along with Game 3) where he was just flat-out bad. He shot 8-for-22 from the floor, making his 25 points very inefficient. His six rebounds aren’t going to cut it. The eight assists are nice, but if LeBron isn’t rebounding or going to the paint, I’m quite sure Popovich and the Spurs will live with giving him some assists to the three-point shooters.
What’s most troublesome about this if you’re a Miami fan is that the Heat was beat playing its own game. This wasn’t a case of Roy Hibbert punishing them down low and exploiting a personnel weakness. This was the Heat—the best team in basketball, who’ve done with the perimeter game and the three-ball—shooting very well from behind the arc (11-for-23) and still getting beat. Check that, getting flat-out destroyed by the opposing guards.
This is a team who has always been more than just flash playing such poor defense that an opponent can shoot 60 percent. Give San Antonio credit for their execution and shot-making to be sure. But no one shoots 60 percent unless the looks are exceptionally good. That falls on Miami’s defensive intensity.
It’s been a storyline that Miami can’t bring championship-level intensity for two games in a row. They obviously have no choice but to do so now, but beyond this, I don’t buy it. This is a group of players that won four straight over Oklahoma City in last year’s NBA Finals after dropping Game 1. They won 27 games in a row this year. They rolled through the first two rounds of the playoffs. The problems with sustained consistency when the caliber of the competition increased.
The Indiana Pacers and the San Antonio Spurs are the only teams the Heat played with even a puncher’s chance to win the series. The fact Miami suddenly looks mortal has to tell us that maybe the Heat are not a historically outstanding team. They still might be the best in 2013 (that’s still the direction I lean), but in spite of the winning streak (keep in mind the 2008 Houston Rockets won 22 straight), Miami doesn’t measure up to past dynasties.
THE HISTORICAL TRACK RECORD
If you have the sense that this series is more or less even—the Spurs might only need one win, but the Heat just need to defend their home floor, the track record comes pretty close to backing that up.
Since the NBA Finals went to the 2-3-2 format in 1985 there have been eight instances of the underdog going on the road needing one win in the final two games to clinch. So far it’s 5-3 for the underdog getting it done. However, two of those instances where the Michael Jordan-era Chicago Bulls winning a Game 6 on the road (1993 & 1998). There’s something to be said for the notion that Jordan’s Bulls are a step beyond anything we see in today’s era. That would make it 3-3 in series involving normal basketball players.
I’m sure it won’t surprise you though, to learn that all five teams that clinched on the road did so in Game 6. Once the three home teams (the Lakers in both 1988 & 2010, along with the Houston Rockets of 1994, quarterbacked by current TNT analyst Kenny Smith) got Game 6, they closed it out in Game 7.
All of which makes Tuesday night the game which will likely decide the 2013 NBA championship. Tipoff is at 9 PM ET on ABC, and TheSportsNotebook’s NBA commentary comes back Wednesday.